Creative Writing

Molehills of Chaos and Literary Leaves

So, here we are again, on the cusp of another Whittaker Prize. Talk about tempus fugit —actually I’m not going to talk about that at all.

I’m not even going to apologise for my trademark erratic blogging. Well maybe, just a little. Sorry, gentle reader—really, I am.  Regular readers will know (and hopefully understand) about the life changing bomb which dropped on me  towards the end of 2010. I won’t bore you with my litany of woes, suffice it to say it was a very painful period I would have gladly have foregone.  The emphasis though, is on the past tense, because although that pain left its legacy, the period has passed and it’s time to move on.

So I’m back, posterior firmly planted on the writing seat. I’m at a new location which I have to say I’m loving. I have a head full of new ideas.  That’s the good news, the less than stellar news is the lack of available hours at my disposal but I’m pretty sure most readers are in the same boat and really don’t need to hear me whinging about it.

My countdown to the eighteen weeks of Whittaker started in the nicest possible way with the publication of a piece of my work in The Right Eyed Deer Issue 5. This is a piece which is very dear to me and although short, took a long, long time to write about – we’re talking decades here. I am glad it found a home with the Deer.

Aside from a couple of early season entries to Write-Invite, I’ve submitted nothing at all so far this year. I can’t say that has thrilled me. I watched as deadlines came and went but have been unable to write anything more than endless “to-do” lists in the three months it has taken to get my head straight. The truth is, I’m a little scared—actually that’s a lie—I’m a lot scared. Scared that when the tape goes up on Whittaker 2011 and the first set of prompts are out, I will find myself with nothing to say or worse that the ability to say anything at all, will also have deserted me —despite the ideas rolling around in my head.

As therapy and by way of relieving some of my angst and paranoia, I have been studying my old notebooks and seeking themes, plot outlines and ideas which I may have overlooked. Happily there’s plenty of stuff there and even some I think I might be able to work with going forward. Ploughing through piles of notebooks, it struck me quite forcibly how chaotic and fragmented it all is. It’s a little scary just how easy it might be for the thread of inspiration or germ of an idea to get lost and never be given the opportunity to develop to full potential.

I read an article many months ago in the Guardian by Hilary Mantel on the subject of stationery in which she asserts that notebooks are death to free thought. I think she might be right.

I’ll admit it, I have been guilty of worshiping at the altar of all things Moleskine and getting caught up in the my little OCD moments of having to have just the right notebook or a certain type of pen before I could let loose my literary prowess and commit my lofty thoughts to paper. To the soundtrack of ringing cash registers, I have been sucked in suckered by romantic notions of striving to imitate the great café writers of days past with my trusty little black notebooks. The problem is, now I can’t find a bloody thing.

Left-brained me, the one wrestling with reality and  the mundane but demanding world of my day job, deals with state of the art databases and lightning fast data retrieval.  Left-brained me  runs on a steady diet of logic fueled by categorisation and everything-in-its-place order, from labels to  indices and filing systems. Left-brain has no room for romanticism. Right brained me has other ideas but so far, right-brained me has failed to deliver when it comes to keeping track of my ideas.  Much time has been wasted by both left and right brain, hunting for tidbits of my scintillating prose and red-hot plot outlines, not to mention the huge quantities of angst expended on it all.  Oh yes, I have little black Molehills of chaos. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Moleskines dearly but the whole notebook thing is just not working for me right now.

At this point I’m not sure which version of myself will win.  What I don’t want to do is stifle my own creativity by imposing rules and regs on right-brain but for the sake of the sanity of left-brain, I’m going to have to come up with a better way of remembering what I wrote and where I wrote it. Whatever the solution , it’s going to be painful and take a lot of work and discipline just to keep myself out of the stationery catalogue.

In the meantime I’m taking a literary leaf out of Hilary’s book and heading down the ring binder route.

6 replies »

  1. I have every confidence in you. I expect that you, as last years winner, will give me a good game and a great competition. Everything you have written that I have seen is a winner. I’ve never known you write a bad story – but I’ve written some dire ones myself – I try to keep them hidden but once in a while they sneak out.
    Go forth and give it some. Falter you will – probably between rounds 4- 6 because we all do – but you will have written nothing to be ashamed of.
    I’m looking forward to it. And I bet you are too, secretly. Even if you don’t know it yet.

    Good luck my compatriot.

    • Wow Effie, thank you – I feel a bit teary that was such a nice comment although I have to say, I’ve probably trailed in behind you in more competitions than I care to think about. Definitely going to go forth and give it some – in fact I think I will adopt that as a motto! You are right about round 4-6 – it will probably be 6 for me, last year had me face down on the keyboard and not a coherent thought to be had at that stage. Wishing you all the very best for this year’s marathon! xx

  2. So glad you’re back and able to compete. As far as keeping shards of ideas, if you like to write on a keyboard, you could open a new file every day and you’d have at least one record of work. One of the reasons I began a writing blog again is to give me a chance to develop the little ideas in my head. Anyway, it will be good to see you, well, have you participating in the Whittaker.

    • Thanks Gale, it’s nice to be back among friends and I definitely like your idea about a file a day – I’ve always kept a day book at work and this seems a nice extension of that. Will give it a try, thank you. Best wishes for Whittaker 2011 too. xx